IT'S A DRIZ­ZLY OC­TO­BER LUNCHTIME

Q (UK) - - Paul Weller -

and sit­ting out­side his lo­cal café in Maida Vale, West Lon­don, Paul Weller is meet­ing his pub­lic. Not, as you might imag­ine for some­one with 18 Top 10 al­bums and a le­gion of hit sin­gles un­der his belt, to pro­vide au­to­graphs or self­ies, but to dish out cig­a­rettes from the packet of Camel Lights he’s been steadily puff­ing his way through. “Fuck­ing hell, any­one else?” he grum­bles af­ter oblig­ing a passer-by for a sec­ond time, widen­ing his arms and ad­dress­ing the af­ter­noon traf­fic: “Free cig­a­rettes! Free cig­a­rettes!” Maida Vale has been Weller’s manor for 20 years now. He likes it here. He’s mates with the post­man, Noel Gal­lagher is just around the cor­ner, as is fel­low punk-era icon Chrissie Hynde, who walks past later to be greeted with a friendly pat on the back. Peo­ple tend not to bother him, he says. He’s just Paul. Paul who hap­pens to be very good at mak­ing mu­sic. “How’s the new al­bum do­ing?” shouts one el­derly neigh­bour from across the pave­ment. “I have no idea, man. See you later.” The al­bum in ques­tion, True Mean­ings, is do­ing rather well as it hap­pens. Weller’s 14th solo record, in Septem­ber it pushed past the ever-present road­block of The Great­est Show­man mo­tion pic­ture sound­track to en­ter the charts at Num­ber 2, nar­rowly miss­ing out on be­ing his fifth one to hit the top. Some­thing of an anomaly in his cur­rent decade-long run of ever-chang­ing, for­ward-fac­ing sonic ad­ven­tures, its del­i­cate acous­tic bal­lads found Weller at 60 years old sit­ting back and tak­ing stock of his life. Quiv­er­ing strings drift­ing around him as he mulled over the past, his own mor­tal­ity, par­ent­hood and the pass­ing of his fa­ther and long-serv­ing man­ager, John Weller. “I thought if there was ever a time to be re­flec­tive it’s prob­a­bly now,” he rea­sons, drain­ing the first of three lat­tes he’ll pol­ish off this af­ter­noon. “I’m at the crest of a hill [ puts hand in front of his face and peers over it]. I’m not nec­es­sar­ily over the hill, but I can sort of see over it. I don’t nor­mally al­low my­self to get re­flec­tive or nos­tal­gic, but I thought it was a good time to take stock and see where I’m at. Now that I’ve done it, I’ll crack on and move along.” True to his word, Weller is al­ready half­way through the “spacey and soul­ful” fol­low-up (“I’ve moved all that fuck­ing fur­ni­ture out the way and now the room is bare and I’m start­ing again”). Last week, how­ever, he did al­low him­self a pro­mo­tional con­ces­sion to the record that’s been in the shops for less than a month. Per­form­ing True Mean­ings and a smat­ter­ing of older songs with a live or­ches­tra at two sold-out nights at Lon­don’s Royal Fes­ti­val Hall. Af­ter 10 years of in­dulging his own cre­ative whims, does he ever worry that his doggedly loyal fan­base might not come along with him?

“I’m at the crest of a hill. I’m not nec­es­sar­ily over the hill, but I can sort of see over it.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t do it to try and alien­ate peo­ple. I would hope that peo­ple would come along with me on the jour­ney,” he notes. “Not ev­ery­one does and that’s fair enough, it’s not ev­ery­one’s cup of tea, but if I was a fan I’d take it as a com­pli­ment that the artist in ques­tion was try­ing to chal­lenge me.” As any­one who cried into their parka at the news The Jam had split up can at­test, it wasn’t al­ways thus. “I was do­ing it from a con­fronta­tional point of view back then, which is ab­surd re­ally,” he re­calls, cast­ing his mind back to a few of his more fan-bait­ing de­ci­sions. “In­stead of try­ing to in­volve peo­ple and be nice about it, I was try­ing to set up a wall. [ Ag­gres­sively] ‘What do you mean you don’t fuck­ing like it? This is great, this is where we’re go­ing.’ Now if I do some­thing dif­fer­ent, I genuinely want peo­ple to come with me.” Right on cue, a mid­dle-aged cou­ple ap­proach our ta­ble to tell him how much they en­joyed last week’s show: “We’ve seen you lots of times but it was just stun­ning,” gushes the woman, “the best ever. Thank you.” He leans back in his seat and beams. “There’s your ar­ti­cle right there, mate.”

The epic poem that is Paul Weller’s mu­si­cal ca­reer has been well-doc­u­mented in the pages of the mu­sic press. Break­ing up the most pop­u­lar British gui­tar group since The Bea­tles at the height of their fame; the arch and oc­ca­sion­ally con­found­ing moves of The Style Coun­cil; his re­turn as a solo artist in the ’ 90s, be­com­ing the elder states­man of Brit­pop – and fre­quent drink­ing part­ner – for the host of bands who grew up with pic­tures of him on their bed­room walls. The main player in this story much prefers the cur­rent chap­ter, though. The one cen­tred around his un­bro­ken and wholly un­ex­pected late-ca­reer resur­gence that be­gan with 2008’ s 22 Dreams; a dou­ble-al­bum splurge of cre­ativ­ity that ar­rived at a time when the for­mer Jam leader was widely thought of as a by­word for wor­thy, trad rock con­ser­vatism. “I loved my 50s. I’ve got a cre­ative free­dom in the last few years where I’m not afraid to try what­ever. I feel like the sky’s the limit,” he en­thuses. “Time’s the big­gest thing for me: my clock is tick­ing over, my me­ter’s on the go…” Mor­tal­ity and loss are themes that raise their heads again and

again on True Mean­ings. Not so much in a dra­matic, dark clouds are form­ing way, more a philo­soph­i­cal ac­cep­tance that the fa­ther of an im­pres­sive eight-strong brood isn’t go­ing to be around for­ever. “It’s not mor­bid, it’s just re­al­ity,” he shrugs. “I got to 60 and thought, ‘Fuck, that’s gone quick.’ My 20s seemed to fuck­ing last for­ever. I was like, ‘When is this go­ing to be over?’ But now ev­ery year just goes flash­ing be­fore my eyes. Out of that, I’ve learnt to try and savour life as much as I can and ap­pre­ci­ate it.” In 2018 Paul Weller is do­ing ex­actly that. Tanned and lean, he ra­di­ates warmth and good vibes. Punc­tu­at­ing his sen­tences with a friendly “man” he’s like a New Age life guru, only with bet­ter clothes and a fond­ness for swear­ing. He’s got a smart­phone he down­loads mu­sic onto (Vil­lagers, Drake, Jorja Smith and house-in­flu­enced project Mr Jukes are cur­rent favourites) and has dis­cov­ered emo­jis: the thumbs-up and – nat­u­rally – a scooter get reg­u­lar use. There’s the oc­ca­sional glimpse of the flinti­ness of old un­der the peace­ful wa­ters, but mostly his face crin­kles into an all-over grin. Now is an ex­cit­ing time to be alive, he de­clares, de­spite the con­stant squawk of po­lit­i­cal vit­riol and fu­ri­ous in­dig­na­tion threat­en­ing to harsh his mel­low. “We live in a time of ex­tremes. Vi­o­lence, TV, films, art. To me, cut­ting a sheep in half and stick­ing it in a plas­tic box is ex­treme. I don’t know if it’s a case of us be­com­ing de­sen­si­tised so much that we have to have ex­tremes to prod us or wake us up, but I don’t like it,” he says. “I’m hop­ing the tide will turn against it. To­wards un­der­stand­ing, peace and kind­ness. I’m op­ti­mistic, man. I have to be.” As the string of beads pok­ing out from un­derneath his navy blue jacket con­firm, the an­gry young mod rail­ing against the teach­ers who said he’d be nuffink has grown into a mas­sive hippy. Bud­dha from sub­ur­bia preach­ing peace, love and the beauty of the present mo­ment. There’s a lot of spir­i­tu­al­ity on the new al­bum, stuff about ac­cept­ing life as it is, it’s al­most Bud­dhist at times… “Def­i­nitely, yeah. But not through any teach­ings or phi­los­o­phy as such. I just see that as the way to go. I would like to think that the time I do meet my end that I will have my soul in­tact be­fore I go on to the next jour­ney or what­ever we go to. To be at peace with my­self and oth­ers in the world. I think it’s worth work­ing on your spir­i­tual self with­out any sort of or­gan­ised re­li­gion or all that bol­locks. I think all the an­swers are within us, which is Bud­dhism I sup­pose.” You’re a Gem­ini, have you ever read your horo­scope? “No, never. I sup­pose that split per­son­al­ity thing, though – I’ve def­i­nitely got that.” Ap­par­ently Gem­i­nis have a low tol­er­ance for bore­dom… “Yeah, I’ve got that.” A ten­dency to sud­denly get se­ri­ous... “Yep, OK, maybe.” …and have a lot of sex ap­peal. “[ Grins] Well, I don’t know about that. Per­haps for the more ma­ture ladies these days.” There is a more earthly rea­son for the new fit­ter, hap­pier, more pro­duc­tive Weller, too. Once a drinker of leg­endary re­pute, eight years ago he knocked it on the head for good. He tried to do the same with smok­ing, but ev­i­dently that didn’t go so well. “If I’m re­ally hon­est, I spent most of the 10 years prior to 22 Dreams drunk. I had a great time. I made a bit of mu­sic in be­tween, but I don’t think of it as any sort of in­spired time,” he re­calls. “And there were some rub­bish records around that time that I made as well.” Last or­ders were even­tu­ally called. In 2008, the Daily Mail ran pic­tures of Weller, drunk as a lord, ly­ing in the street with his fu­ture wife Han­nah An­drews af­ter a par­tic­u­larly heavy ses­sion in Prague. Not a great look for a pop star now in his 50s, and it was Han­nah who soon af­ter gave him an ul­ti­ma­tum to pack it in. He’s vis­i­bly health­ier and hap­pier for it, and main­tains he doesn’t miss it. Most of the time, at least. “I miss the chaos some­times. That mo­ment of mad­ness where you’re all off your fuck­ing nut and ev­ery­thing is bril­liant and a laugh,” he con­cedes. “But not enough to make me want to go back to it. I’m a bet­ter per­son for it. I used to get such bad de­pres­sions, gen­uine de­pres­sion. I can see now how booze was mak­ing that worse. I had 35 years of it so I can’t com­plain, but I don’t miss it. I do not miss those hang­overs.”

Two days later, Weller ar­rives at Lon­don’s Round­house for the Q Awards. Dressed in ice-blue slacks, a dou­ble-breasted cor­duroy jacket and ’ 70s- style avi­a­tors, he’s shak­ing hands and mer­rily chat­ting away to all and sundry be­fore mak­ing a bee­line for the smok­ing area. “You’re lucky I’m not drink­ing any more, I would have been a night­mare,” he notes be­tween puffs. “I re­mem­ber pre­sent­ing an award to Noel com­pletely pissed. I got on­stage and was like, [ does “pished” face, sways and slurs] ‘Roll the VT.’ He came up to me af­ter­wards: ‘What the fuck was that!?’” Weller is on pre­sent­ing duty again to­day and has put a lit­tle more ef­fort in this time. Pre­par­ing a heart­felt, hand­writ­ten speech for his all-time song­writ­ing hero, Ray Davies. When the time comes later on to an­nounce Q’s Best Act In The World To­day award, the en­tire venue rises to its feet when Weller’s name is read out. He’s chuffed to bits, dou­bly so that the award was voted for by the pub­lic: clearly, those fans have de­cided to come along with him on the jour­ney af­ter all. Just as he ex­its the stage, U2’s Bono – a man Weller has a long his­tory of say­ing less than com­pli­men­tary things about – walks up. “Is he go­ing to bless us?” he mut­ters, look­ing back over his shoul­der. Fif­teen min­utes later Paul Weller, Bono and Noel Gal­lagher will be stood smil­ing with their arms around one an­other’s shoul­ders. Dé­tente at last! Peace in our time! Kind­ness and un­der­stand­ing have won the day! Well, mo­men­tar­ily. Weller steps to one side: “Can I go fuck­ing home now?” He’s out to make peace with the world, but even the new Zen-like Paul Weller has his lim­its.

“I’m a bet­ter per­son for not drink­ing. I had 35 years of it so I’m not com­plain­ing.”

Friends re­united: (left) Paul Weller with Noel Gal­lagher and Roger Dal­trey back­stage at this year’s Q Awards; (above) show­cas­ing True Mean­ings, with or­ches­tra, at Lon­don’s Royal Fes­ti­val Hall, 12 Oc­to­ber, 2018.

World beater: Weller re­ceives his gong.

And the win­ner is…: Weller makes his way to the stage at the 2018 Q Awards.

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